Medicinal cannabis warning

With certain medicinal cannabis products now S3 but not yet available in pharmacy, the TGA is warning about the risks of buying online

On Monday the Therapeutic Goods Administration warned consumers that “medicinal cannabis products bought online may be unsafe, of poor quality or contain a different dose to what the label claims”.

In December 2020, the TGA made a final decision to downschedule certain cannabis products from Prescription Only to Pharmacist Only.

This came into effect on 1 February 2021, meaning patients may legally access medicinal cannabis if a registered doctor gives them a prescription and the patient fills the prescription at a pharmacy.

However with the exception of a very small number of prescription only products, medicinal cannabis products are not approved medicines in Australia, which means the TGA has not assessed them for safety, quality or effectiveness, it points out.

“Since 1 February 2021 pharmacists have been able to supply certain TGA approved medical cannabis products containing a low dose of cannabidiol (CBD) over-the-counter.

“However, to date there are no approved products of this type. In practice, patients must still obtain a prescription to access any medicinal cannabis product in Australia.”

The TGA warns consumers about buying medicines online, particularly about the possibility of accessing fake cannabis.

“Products sold on the black market, especially from online sellers that do not request a doctor’s prescription, are unlikely to achieve the desired results and can be very dangerous,” it says.

It notes that fake products bought online may contain undeclared hazardous ingredients.

“A lack of manufacturing and testing standards may also result in contaminated products. Using fake products can put you at serious risk of unpredictable or severe adverse reactions.”

The TGA also points out that medicinal cannabis products usually contain CBD and/or tetrahydrocannabinol (THC)— the psychoactive substance in cannabis.

But “A study published in the Journal of Clinical Pharmacology found that it is common for CBD products to be labelled with inaccurate dosage and that CBD concentration varied across batches of the same product, purchased at different times”.

“This study also highlighted that without independent testing from a laboratory experienced in analysing CBD content, it is impossible to confirm if the level of THC stated on the label is correct and that the product is not contaminated. These results serve as a warning against buying medicinal cannabis products online.”

The TGA also warns consumers to seek advice from their doctor before operating machinery or driving if they use medicinal cannabis.

“Although drowsiness is not a known side effect of CBD alone, it may occur if the CBD interacts with other medications you may be taking. You should not operate machinery or drive while being treated with medicinal products containing the psychoactive substance THC.

“The states and territories are responsible for driving laws, including laws on driving with medicinal cannabis or prescription medicines in your system. Laws may differ between states and territories.

“Medicinal cannabis bought online may not be accurately labelled, including the actual amount of THC. You could lose your driver’s license and be fined if found to be driving under the influence of THC.”

It also warns that advertising medicinal cannabis products to consumers in Australia is illegal, and that it will review complaints of alleged non-compliant advertising of medicinal cannabis products to the public.

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